The Perkins Perspective | Reviews | Spring 2013
The Colors of Hope
By Bob Zurinsky, Assistant Director for the Center for Worship
"Dahlstrom expresses his growing frustration with an American Christianity that has become obsessed with determining “who’s right and who’s wrong,” writes Zurinsky.
The Colors of Hope: Becoming People of
Mercy, Justice, and Love
By Richard Dahlstrom
Baker Books, 2011, 224 pp.
Every Sunday, hundreds of Seattle Pacific University students, staff, and faculty make the journey four miles north to the picturesque Green Lake neighborhood of north Seattle. Their destination is Bethany Community Church, where, more often than not, Senior Pastor Richard Dahlstrom is delivering a 40-minute sermon at one of Bethany’s four weekly services at the main campus. (And sometimes more … Bethany offered 13 different services in four locations this Easter Sunday.)
In the last decade, the average attendance at Bethany has grown from 500 to well over 3,000 people per week, and it’s hard to miss the fact that a large percentage of this growth has come from people who currently attend, or are otherwise significantly connected to, SPU. So what’s going on here?
For one thing, both Richard Dahlstrom and his wife, Donna, are SPU alums. And the couple has also been celebrated as “Medallion Award” recipients – similar to the Alumnus of the Year award. All three of their children attended SPU, as well. But that's just one part of the SPU connections.
Many SPU students have done their ministry internships at Bethany, or have volunteered through Bethany’s outreach and community service programs. Through the lives of individuals who have found their home at both Bethany and SPU, these two institutions have been woven together at an organic and grass-roots level. And the reason for this convergence is, I think, best explained by the profoundly similar message and vision of the Christian life that many people have encountered in both places.
This vision for the Christian gospel is well articulated in Richard Dahlstrom’s latest book, The Colors of Hope: Becoming People of Mercy, Justice, and Love. In these pages, Dahlstrom expresses his growing frustration with an American Christianity that has become obsessed with determining “who’s right and who’s wrong.” What we’ve sometimes missed entirely, he explains, is our primary mission as God’s people — to be artists, painting a picture of mercy, justice, and love on the canvas of our world. When we miss our calling in this way, he argues, we all too often paint a portrait of the Christian gospel that looks ugly, distorted, and hateful. “Why?” Dahlstrom asks. “Why do we think that anyone would want to be a part of a movement that makes our world an uglier place?”
Dahlstrom tells the story of some of his own significant encounters with Scripture — primarily with the book of Isaiah and the gospel accounts of Jesus. In these texts, he discovered a hope-full and beautiful message for the world. This good news starts with the promise that God has planned (and is now working) to transform this earth into a place where God’s good reign is made visible. At this end of this epic project, no part of creation will be left untouched by the Master Artist’s brush.
"shot-through with the glory of God"
As Dahlstrom frequently points out in his speaking and writing, we are learning to see the end of the story when “the whole universe is shot-through with the glory of God.” It is precisely because this vision compels us to imagine every part of our world restored that we are driven by the Spirit to actively participate in the world’s redemption here and now. Dahlstrom demonstrates that the transformation God intends for us spans the whole spectrum of creation — from the intimate depths of the human heart, to the ordering of human society, to the flourishing of the natural world.
This is the gospel hope, the good news that we bear witness to as followers of the resurrected Messiah. And Dahlstrom makes the case that the best way to make this kind of reality visible in our lives and world today is to focus on the three “primary colors” that God always uses to paint this future into existence: justice, mercy, and love (Micah 6:8). Tracing his own journey from the time he was a young pastor concerned mostly with God’s salvation plan for human souls, Dahlstrom shows us the ways that he has come to embrace a fuller and more beautiful gospel message – and the practical ways that these discoveries are transforming the way that his church seeks to embody the life of Christ.
As Bethany continues to embrace this calling to “spill hope” and to “paint the picture of God’s good reign,” the energies of the church have diversified and taken on a multitude of artistic dimensions. As Dahlstrom describes in The Colors of Hope, the church is now engaged in hosting a women’s shelter and a food bank, investing deeply in clean water and local church empowerment in Africa, and offering a variety of social, psychological, and environmental resources for Bethany families and the surrounding community. In short, making the world a more beautiful place for all of God’s children.
Breaking Down Barriers
Dahlstrom is also quick to point out that he, and Bethany, are on a journey. Part three of the book is dedicated to overcoming the sense that we need to “have it all figured out” before we start to paint hope. This kind of thinking will never work, according to Dahlstrom. “No," he writes. "Redemption, transforming the canvas of our reality, must start now, right in the midst of our messes.” Indeed, any thoughtful participant in the Bethany community will be able to point out the many ways that we haven’t yet arrived.
For example, in Dahlstrom’s book, we find a striking vision of the kingdom of God where every wall and barrier is broken down. There is no more Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. This is the gospel image that we are called to paint onto the canvas of our world. And yet Bethany Community Church is still a place of relatively little cultural diversity. Although we are community that is theoretically open and hospitable to all, we don’t find that “all” adequately represented in the pews or in the leadership of the church. I think we need to ask ourselves why that is. Indeed, partly due to the overwhelming administrative challenge of trying to manage a congregation that frequently doubles in size, Bethany is “still a mess” in many ways. (But aren’t we all?!)
In the spirit of The Colors of Hope, this is not a reason to stop painting, to stop spilling hope. Rather, it helps to define the next stages of the work that God has called us to. And that’s the humble and hopeful message that Dahlstrom has been sharing with us all along.
Bob Zurinsky, a 2002 SPU alumnus, is the assistant director
of the Office of University Ministries
and the Center for Worship at Seattle Pacific University. He is also a member of Bethany Community Church.
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